Thursday, January 19, 2012

Greek Culture Minister rushes to deny Acropolis rental rumours

The source of the almost instantly viral rumour that the Greeks were considering renting out the Acropolis and other archaeological sites to help pay off the country's sovereign debt seems to have been a Conservative former Greek Minister — Gerasimos Giakoumatos.

‎"It's better to rent the Acropolis to private companies than to cut wages and pensions," Giakoumatos told the press. "Rent the Parthenon, the Delphi, the Temple of Apollo, Knossos and let the money flow into the public funds.” That recommendation, which had cultural heritage experts choking into their cornflakes, was endorsed by another Greek MP, Nea Dimokratia.

As Ton Cremers has just reported, Greek Minister of Culture and Tourism, Pavlos Yeroulanos, quickly took to his Twitter account to dispel claims that the Greek Government was considering such a course of action (@P_Yeroulanos).

Shame, as I was looking forward to renting the Temple of Hera at Olympia (above left) for a nice summer holiday with the kids. No roof or pool, but nice views of the surrounding countryside...

Acropolis for rent: surely Hellas is insulted

Greece is to make its archaeological sites available for rental by commercial concerns, according to recent reports, seemingly in a desperate effort to help shore up the nation's disastrous debt burden.

So, Pericles's "everlasting glory" has come to this. For generations, Greece's cultural heritage monuments were regarded as beyond the reach of the dead arm of corporate interests, but the global debt crisis has changed all that. Now it seems almost anyone will be able to rent the country's archaeological sites for use as film sets, or for advertising and other commercial purposes. The notion that this could have any measurable impact on Greece's seemingly insuperable sovereign debt burden is risible and smacks of desperation.

As if it were not bad enough for Greece to have to watch its own Parthenon Marbles generating vast amounts of tourist revenue for the British Museum, it is now forced to prostitute its ancient birthright to commercial interests in order to offset the misery caused by corporate banking greed. (Has there ever been a more auspicious moment for Britain to return the Marbles to Greece? It would be a humanitarian gesture of immeasurable symbolic impact that could only lift the spirits of a deeply demoralized nation and doubtless also help it generate vital revenue.)

Needless to say, the Greek government's decision to rent out the nation's cultural sites has been greeted with widespread vocal opposition from cultural heritage groups crying "Sacrilege!" One can't help thinking back to the understandable snorts of moral outrage elicited by the use of corporate advertising hoardings on Venice's ancient buildings a few years ago.

Ton Cremers of the Museum Security Network used his Facebook page to suggest that the British Museum should begin paying Greece 'back-rental' on the Parthenon Marbles looted by Lord Elgin. This drew a snort of moral outrage from the Honourable Anna Somers Cocks, Editor-at-Large of The Art Newspaper, who responded thus: "Hey, anachronistic! they were acquired with the written permission of the Ottoman governor of Athens, the only legal authority there at the time."

Don't be fooled by the streetwise "Hey!" that prefixes that outburst (her tune might have changed had it been her beloved Venice pillaged by the crapulous Lord Elgin). If you're looking for a definition of the term 'anachronistic', look no further than the Establishment's Facebook page.

Greece, think again...for all our sakes. It's bad enough that the Ottoman Turks conspired with a syphilitic Scottish aristocrat to desecrate the Parthenon. Don't let corporate interests add insult to injury.

Message to the British Museum: Do the right thing. Send the Marbles back to Athens.